Saturday, March 14, 2015

Downton Abbey: Assessing Series Five

I'd mentioned back in August that I was disinclined to blog recaps for Downton Abbey Series Five due to, well, a complete lack of interest.  After finally watching Series Five, I'd say my instincts were correct.  Series Five was a snooze for about the first two thirds, with only the final third making it a better series overall than Series Four.

Overall, these are my impressions of Series Five:

1.  Even the Show Realizes How Poorly Used Cora Is.  For four previous series, Cora was little more than a cushion on the sofa, zoned out and seldom interesting unless the script called for it.  In Series Five, the script did call for it quite often.  Not only did Cora receive the attentions of an elegant art collector, but she also got to remind the audience of her life before marriage, as the daughter of a Jewish millionaire.  Cora was interesting and insightful in a way that she was rarely called upon to be, and the scripts acknowledged that part of her previous misuse was due to Lord Grantham taking her for granted.  Will the more interesting Cora stick around for Series Six?  We can only hope.

2.  Edith Can Be Dumb (and Selfish).  Edith is probably my favorite of the Upstairs group, but Series Five highlighted her short-sightedness and taught us that, yes, she is Mary Crawley's sister.  It would have been fairly easy for her or Mr. Drewe to tell Mrs. Drewe the truth about Marigold, though Mrs. Drewe would have been daft not to suspect.  Then a lot of craziness and heartbreak could have been avoided.  But no, not only did Edith not give Mrs. Drewe the courtesy of knowing the truth, but she ultimately yanked Marigold from the woman who had been raising her the past year.  Yes, her reasoning made sense, but that didn't mean she wasn't also being selfish.

3.  Jewish History in Britain.  One of the more interesting story lines of Series Five was the Russian refugee/Jewish one, involving on the one hand, nobles fleeing Communist Russia (given their role in making villains of the Tsar and Tsarina, I can't say they didn't get what they deserved) and, on the other, Jewish Russian refugees who became extremely successful and assimilated (for the most part) into Russian society.  The Aldriges' complex standing in British society -- they want to be British, but also want to maintain their Jewish identity -- was touched upon all-too briefly.  It probably won't get much more screen time, sadly, since the actress who played Rose has left Downton Abbey for greener Hollywood pastures.  

4.  Sometimes People Can Leave Downton Abbey.  It's a long-running joke that characters with aspirations never get to fulfill them because that would mean Leaving the Abbey.  The joke is only partially based in fact -- previously, Gwen, O'Brien, and Alfred left Downton to fulfill their ambitions, as did Sybil in her own way.  However, characters who would be much better off away and have no reason to still be there, like Daisy or Edith or Thomas/Barrow, always seem to find reasons to stay.  And then there's Tom, always talking about going to America.  When is that ever going to happen?  Well, it finally did happen.  Tom left Downton for Boston at the end of the Christmas Special.  Even though he'll probably be back (if rumors are correct), it's nice that at least he'll have some time away to grow and become his own man.

5.  Older Women Can Be Interesting and Desirable!  Another good story line from Series Five was men being interested in the Dowager Countess and Isobel.  You got to see the former, in particular, as more than just a witticisms machine.  The latter story line with Lord Merton had an unsatisfying conclusion, if that was the conclusion.  Isobel's refusal to marry Lord Merton because it would come between him and his horrendous sons is right up there with Daisy's "Oh heck, maybe I'll just stay and study here a bit longer instead of going to London" as an Unjustified Excuse to Avoid Having a Character Leave Downton.  My guess is that Lord Merton will finally get through to his sons in the second-to-last episode and another wedding will be had.
6.  They Really Don't Know What to Do With the Bateses.  When is the last time we saw Anna smile?  When is the last time I liked John Bates?  I don't remember, but the answer to both is likely "Too long ago."  Far too many plots have been devoted to their guilt or innocence involving various crimes.  Show: if you can't find anything new to have them do together, it's time to break them up.

7.  Mary and Her Men Are Pointless.  So the tug of war between Blake and Gillingham was for nothing.  Lord Gillingham turned out to be a dud in bed, as well as penniless, and ended up going back to his fiance, Mabel Lane Fox.  Blake had no interest in Mary after Series Four and went off to Poland to... do something.  Now there's a new beau introduced in the Christmas Special, but I'm hoping the true end game will be Mary and Tom.  Yes, I said it.

Mary is just boring and unpleasant when she has no real pressures to face.  Though to the show's credit, it seems to understand that, as Violet, frequently the show's mouthpiece, more than once chastised Mary for her behavior.  It will be interesting to see what she does when she finds out about Marigold's true history... since she is the only one still in the dark.       

The above image is used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

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